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Champaign County, Illinois

History of the City and Township of Urbana

The early history of Urbana is fully given in the general narrative, and in writing the history of a county and its constituent townships, recapitulation, to some degree, is unavoidable; and to avoid it as much as possible, we must refer our readers to the general history of the first settlements of the county. However, a few of the early settlers will be noted.

Urbana Township comprises the Congressional Township 19, Range 9 east, bounded on the north by Somer, east by St. Joseph, south by Philo, and west by Champaign. It is among the richest and best farming lands of the county; its people intelligent and enterprising. The thriving city of Urbana is located in the western part of the township, on the line of the I. B. & W. R. R. This for many years was the first and only town of importance in the county. The original proprietor of the town was Col. M. W. Busey, whose liberal donation of land caused Urbana to be selected as the county seat.


(*For some of the data of this Township, we are indebted to an article from the pen of Judge J. O. Cunningham.) "In 1822, Runnel Fielder settled upon what is now known as the Roe Farm, four miles northeast of Urbana, very near where the county road crosses the creek. A little cleared spot, on the south side of the road, upon a little bluff, marks the site of a cabin erected by Fielder, which he used for the double purpose of a dwelling and a trading post to deal with the Indians, then the only inhabitants of the county between the settlements about Danville and those of McLean county. Fielder does not seem to have entered the land where his first house was erected. However, he did, on the 27th June, 1828, enter the 80 east of it, which was the first entry made in the grove, and there planted the first orchard in the grove, if not the first in the county. Fielder emigrated to Iowa in 1831. Wm. Thompkins, in 1828, settled on the creek, near where Halberstadt's mill now is, and erected a cabin there, which subsequently became the property of Isaac Busey, and the scene of the first term of Circuit Court held in the county. Thompkins entered the 80, where his cabin was erected November 1st, 1830, and soon after that sold out to Isaac Busey. Mrs. Matilda Bryan, a daughter of Isaac Busey, says they came here from Kentucky in November, 1830, and bought out Thompkins, who then had only twenty acres improved and fenced, and that laid mostly south of Main street and west of Market street."

After 1830 the settlers commenced coming in quite rapidly.

The first physician to locate in Urbana was Dr. John S. Saddler. He became a resident of the town in 1839, remaining but a few years. There were, however, other physicians who settled at an earlier date in and about the "Big Grove Settlement." Dr. Winson Somers came in 1840, and was a successful practitioner until his death in 1871.

The first death was the wife of Isaac Busey, in 1834, and was the first person buried in the old cemetery at Urbana, except, perhaps, an infant child of Samuel G. Beckley, her son-in-law, who lived on the N. W. quarter section 8, Township 19-9, now owned by Col. S. T. Busey.

The first tavern opened in Urbana was by Isarel Knapp, in the year 1834. It was a log structure, built on the northwest corner of Market and Main, on the ground occupied by Pollock's store. Joseph Mills was the first blacksmith and wagon-maker. He began business in 1838.


The first stock of goods brought to the town of Urbana was in 1834 by isaac H. Alexander, who came from Danville and opened a general country store. Soon after, Samuel McRoberts opened a store, and Thompson R. Webber had charge of it. Mr. McRoberts resided at Danville, was a lawyer, and receiver of the General Land Office at that place.

Rev. Arthur Bradshaw, of the M. E. Church, was the first resident preacher. He also built the first brick home in Urbana, in the year 1841.

Mr. Asahel Bruer taught the first school. The venerable old gentleman is still living.

The first lawyer to locate in this town was William D. Somers, who is yet actively engaged in the practice of his profession.

(We shall say but little in this chapter of the schools, churches, and press, as those subjects are treated more fully in another part of the work.)

The present newspapers of the city are the The Champaign County Herald," published by A. T. Lewis, and "The Urbana Republican," by Frank M. Snyder and Rev. David Gay.


S. T. and S. H. Busey and Dr. Earheart, of Champaign, organized a bank in 1867, under the style of Busey Bros. Dr. Earheart disposed of his interest in 1869, since which time it has been operated by Busey Bros. This bank is one of the solid institutions of the county, with ample capital. Their place of business is in Busey's Block, Main street.

Burpee & Curtiss, also, do a general banking business, established December, 1873. Their bank is in "The Herald" building, corner Main and Market streets.

The city of Urbana is provided with a street car railroad, known as the Urbana Railroad Company, chartered by the Legislature in 1859. The company was formed and grading completed in 1861. Nothing, however, was done in the way of putting on the rolling-stock until 1863. The first cars ran over the road August 15th, 1863. It was used principally for freighting purposes until 1870, when, on the completion of the I. B. & W. R. R., the side tracks were taken up, and since that time the road has been devoted to passenger traffic. The line commences at the Court-House in Urbana and has its western terminus at the Doane House, Champaign. It is a great convenience to the citizens of both towns, and is liberally patronized.

I. B. & W. R. R. shops were erected in this city in the summer of 1870. The average number of employees are about three hundred, exclusive of engineers and firemen. The pay-roll amounts to nearly twenty thousand dollars per month.


Among the principal manufacturing interests are the Urbana Mills, established in 1850, and operated for a time both as saw and flour mill, since which time it has been remodeled. The amount of capital invested is about $30,000, and there are three run of burrs, two for wheat and one for corn. Capacity about eighty barrels flour per day, and twenty-five bushels of corn. The mills are owned and operated by Park & Royer.

The Union Mills are located on Race Street. The priprietor is Eli Halberstadt. The mill has three run of burrs, two for wheat and one for corn, and manufactures a very fine quality of flour, largely for the home markets.


There are those of A. Snedeker, near the I. B. & W. Railroad depot, and the University Machine Shops, situated on the grounds belonging to the I. I. University.

The cigar manufacturers of Urbana are A. Kutz and Nat. Cohn. Both establishments are located on Main street.

The principal planing-mill is that of Andrew Barr.

Saddlery and harness manufacturers are E. W. and J. B. Smith.

The Urbana Woollen Mills are operated by John Taylor & Son.

Royal A. Satton is quite largely engaged in the manufacture of brick and tiles. His factory is situated about a half mile north of Main street. His capital is ample, and his energy equal to his capital. Also, in this township is situated the tile factory of A. O. Howell, which was established in March, 1877. He employs from eight to ten hands. His factory is located at his home place, on section 5, something over a mile north of the city.

The carriage and wagon manufacturing is represented by A. F. Hays, Wm. Craig, L. H. Copenhaver, and G. W. Call.

The city is well represented by several first-class mercantile establishments in the dry goods, hardware, drugs, groceries, boots and shoes, clothing stores, and notion houses.


Urbana Commandery, No. 16, Knights Templar.-This was organized in the year 1865, and has a membership of 68. The first officers were as follows:-Sir Lyman Chandler Hurd, Eminent Commander; Sir C. H. Tutler, Generalissimo; Sr. J. A. Tutler, Captain General.

We give a list of Commanders from date of organization till the present (1878):-Sir. L. C. Hurd, 1865-1866; Sir Solomon Jacob Toy, 1865; Sir Francis Granger Jaques, 1866-1867; Sir Andrew Ogden Clapp, 1867-1869; Sir Francis Granger Jaques, 1869-1872; Sir John Charles Black, 1872 to april 1874; Sir Mahlon Lindley, 1874 to January 1875; Sir Frederick Ernst Eubeling, 1875-1878.

The following is the list of officers for 1877-1878:-Sir Frederick Ernst Eubeling, Eminent Commander; Sir Mahlon Lindley, Generalissimo; Sir Stephen Corbly Knight, Captain General; Sir Edward Blackshaw, Prelate; Sir Zachariah Fellows Sharpe, Senior Warden; Sir George Warren Curtiss, Junior Warden; Sir Charles Schlorff, Treasurer; Sir Albert Palmer Cunningham, Recorder; Sir Joseph Elkanah Conklin, Standard Bearer; Sir Eli Jonathan Heller, Sword Bearer; Sir William Tinlan Sutton, Warder; Sir Alexander Spence, Steward. Present membership 68.

Urbana Chapter, No. 80 , was organized on the 6th October, 1865. The first officers were-Edward Blackshaw, H. P.; Dudley McLean, K.; J. O. Cunningham, S.; L. J. Foy, C. H.; Frank G. Jaques, P. S.; N. J. McConney, R. A. C.; Joseph Park, M. 3 V.; Eli Halberstadt, M W V.; Mahlon Lindley, M. 1 V.; A. O. Clapp, Treasurer; M. S. Brown, Secretary; A. T. Wills, Sentinel.

Charter Memers-Frank G. Jaques, M. Lindley, N. J. McConney, L. C. Hurd, Joseph Park, D. McLean, A. Spenc;e, L. J. Foy, E. Halberstadt, E. Blackshaw, J. O. Cunningham, Robert T. Miller.

Present Officers-George W. Curtiss, H. P.; Joseph park, K.; Mahlon Lindley, S.; Eli J. Heller, C. H.; Wm. T. Sutton, P. S.; Edward Blackshaw, R. A. C.; Fred E. Eubeling, M. 3 V.; Charles A. Besore, M. 2 V.; James Thorp, M. 1 V.; Charles Schlorff, Treasurer; J. J. McLean, Secretary; Benjamin F. Michael, Tyler.

Present Officers of Urbana Lodge, No. 157, A. T. & A. M.-Edward Blackshaw, W. M.; W. T. Sutton, S. W.; S. S. Small, J. W.; Joseph Kennedy, Secretary; Charles Schlorff, Treasurer; George Tamsit, S. D.; Jesse Albright, J. D.; B. F. Michales, Tyler.

Urbana Lodge, No. 135, I. O. O. F.-This lodge was organized as far back as 1854, March 29th. Members at time of organization were J. D. Wilson, William R. Gessie, Henry Robinson, Thomas Robinson, James Dean, and Z. E. Gill.

The lodge suspended work during the war, as most of its members responded to the call of their country, and went forth to defend the Union.

At present there are sixty-two members in good standing. The present officers are Charles Schlorff, N. G.; H. H. Saing, V. G.; John Ross, R. S.; Isaac B. Smith, P. S.; T. A. Lewis, Treas.; T. B. Smith, D. G. M.

Knights of Pythias-Triumph Lodge, No. 73, was instituted on the 4th of June, 1877, by the officers and members of Farmer City Lodge, Clinton Lodge, Lincoln Lodge, and Indianapolis Lodge. Officers elected for the first term were A. J. Wemple, C. C.; J. C. Barnard, P. C.; James Davis, V. C.; George C. Little, P.; J. E. Pollock, J. G.; Robert Bowman, O. G.; Albert Rieley, M. of F.; J. E. Pollock, M. of E.; F. C. Davidson, K. of R. and S.; Wm. Sandford, M. of A.

Officers for the present term are as follows:-A. T. Lewis, P. C.; A. J. Wenyiler, C. C.; James A. Davis, K. of R. & S.; A. M. Yaust, M. of F.; Albert Riley, V. C.; Robert Bowman, Prelate; Frank Fajirs, J. G.; A. R. Coverdale, O. G.; F. A. Lewis, M. of E.; George Depuy, M. at A. The lodge is working along smoothly, still adding to its membership.

There are also lodges of the "Universal Brotherhood" and of the "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers," and "Brotherhood of Locomotive Fireman."


A. P. Cunningham, Mayor; C. B. Holmes, City Clerk; L. A. McClain, Treasurer; A. T. Lewis, Attorney; Wm. McWilliams, Marshal; Dudley McClain, Police Magistrate.

Aldermen.-First Ward, Lewis Wagoner, Thomas Redding; Second, D. H. Goodspeed, John Gere; Third, T. S. Hubbard, J. W. Sim; Fourth, George Besore, Fred. Schlorff.

Committees.-Finance, H. L. Russell; Gas and Gas Lights, T. S. Hubbard; Fire and Water, George Besore; Streets and Alleys, Lewis Wagner; Superintendent, H. H. Saint.

The population of Urbana, as taken by the publishers of the "Urbana Directory,' in March, 1878, is as follows: White males, 1,719; white females, 1,680-3,399; colord males, 58; colord females, 54. Tota, 3.511.

The city of Urbana is beautifully situated in the midst of a rich farming district. Its excellent churches and common schools are something for the citizens to feel justly proud of. As a place of residence few interior towns surpass it. There are several fine business blocks, which add much to the solid and substantial appearance of the city. Its streets are lighted with gas, and with its street cars, give it somewhat the appearance of a metropolitan city. There are also several fine residences which adorn the principal avenues. The Illinois Industrial University is also a prominent feature of this growing town. The principal hotels are the Griggs House, situated on the line of the I. B. & W. Railroad, and the St. Nicholas and commercial Hotels, on Main street.


(*From Notes by F. G. Jaques) In the fall of 1872, a few citizens met in Busey's Hall and decided to take the initiative steps for the starting of a Library and Reading Room. At that time the one mill tax allowed by act of the Legislature to be appropriated by the City Council amounted only to about $300, and it was deemed best to organize as a stock company, until such time as the tax would amount to a sufficient fund to carry on the work. On December 11, 1872, the Urbana Library Association was incorporated, and the citizens subscribed generally to the stock, which were really donations, as it was provided by the by-laws that the dividends should not at any time be paid on said stock. On the 2d day of July, A. D. 1874, the directors of the Urbana Library Association transferred to the directors of the Urbana Free Library all the property of the Association, for and in consideration of the agreement of the City Council of Urbana to support and maintain a free public library and reading room in said city of Urbana, as expressed in an ordinance heretofore adopted by said City Council. This property so turned over consisted of 886 vols., Library and Reading Room furniture, about the value of $300, and $126.52 in money. The following exhibit made with the report of June 1st, 1878, shows the increase in Library work during the preceding year:


Whole number in Library


Percent, as to whole number in Library

Number of books taken out year ending


Percent, as to whole number in Library

1878 1877 Increase 1878 1877 1878 1877 Increase 1878 1878
Fiction 1058 802 256 35. 38.7 9161 6870 2291 50.6 65.7
Juvenile 422 283 139 14. 13.7 5697 2610 3087 31.5 18.2
Humorous 60 46 20 2.2 2.2 320 266 63 1.8 2.5
Poetry 91 75 16 3. 3.6 286 181 105 1.6 1.8
Biography 162 104 58 5.4 5. 447 240 207 2.5 1.8
Travels 111 85 26 3.7 4.1 476 260 216 2.7 2.1
History 210 147 63 7. 7.1 464 279 185 2.6 2.7
General Literature 370 191 179 12.2 9.2 549 449 100 3. 3.1
Science and Art 223 186 37 7.3 9. 549 449 100 3. 3.1
Religious 197 121 76 6.5 5.8 163 105 58 .9 1.
Reference 33 33   1.1 1.6 101   101 .6  
PublicDocuments 80   80 2.6            
TOTAL 3023 2073 950     18,084 11,438 6646    

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